O'Fallon Progress

Mayor Roach honors O’Fallon Junior Girl Scout Troop 163

The O’Fallon Progress

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Every child should be able to celebrate a birthday, no matter what their circumstances — that was the driving force for O’Fallon Junior Girl Scout Troop 163’s community service project last year. Their “Birthday in a Bag” donations made a difference in not just their community, but surrounding towns as well.

Their efforts far succeeded their goals — the initial plans for 30 turned into 193 — and for that, they have received overwhelming gratitude, a scout award and a proclamation from O’Fallon Mayor Herb Roach at a recent City Council meeting.

Roach said they often award adults who do good things in the community, but this was an opportunity to recognize these youngsters who made a difference, too.

“They took it upon themselves to do something for a lot of other people,” he said.

Roach also added he had met with the scouts for 45 minutes before the meeting.

“They are pretty sharp. They fired questions at me the whole time, right up until we came in here,” he said.

Girl Scout Troop 163 Leader Becky Knapp said the girls decided on holding a donation drive at their school, J.E. Hinchcliffe Elementary in O’Fallon, to get supplies for 30 “Birthday in a Bag” gifts to give to food pantries and family/children organizations to be available to parents or caregivers.

“Last October, Junior Girl Scout Troop 163 started brainstorming on what they could do to make a difference in their community,” Knapp said. “They decided to help kids in the surrounding communities to be able to celebrate their birthday no matter what their circumstances.”

The drive was so successful they not only met their goal but also went above and beyond, with more than six times their target.

“Birthday in a Bag” is a collection of items a family could use to celebrate a child’s birthday at a home party — a large gift bag filled with a cake mix, frosting, baking pan, candles, balloons, birthday-themed plates, napkins and a birthday card.

“The troop also decided in order to get lots of donations and to have fun with this donation drive that they would have a school-wide contest to see which class could bring in the most Birthday in a Bag donations,” Knapp said.

“Troop 163 was able to gain the support from local restaurant owner Gary Saenz at Casa Azteca to donate a Taco Tuesday party to the winning class. The second place winners would win a My Favorite Donut Day,” she said.

Knapp said the scouts started the first week of November by handing out flyers, hanging up handmade posters, and emailing teachers and Hinchcliffe families to get everybody on board with the project.

“The contest was set up using class points. A student or teacher could donate a single item for the birthday bag to their class and earn one point per item or they could donate an entire birthday in a bag with all of the items and receive 20 points for their classroom,” she said.

“Every day that week, Troop 163 was excited to see students and staff at Hinchcliffe bringing in dozens of filled birthday bags! Needless to say, the donation drive was a huge success!” Knapp added. “Because of the donation drive, a local dollar store actually sold out of cake mixes, icing and birthday gift bags. By the end of the week, the troop counted 193 full Birthday Bags! The project was an overwhelming success!”

Dawn Palmisano‘s fourth grade class and Heidi Mueller and Karen Etling’s special education classes were the first place winners of the contest.

“They won the in-class Casa Azteca catered Taco Tuesday party and enjoyed tacos, chips and salsa, and cinnamon sugar tortillas. Annette Neighbors’ fifth grade class were the second place winners and enjoyed a My Favorite Donut day,” Knapp said.

The scouts delivered these filled gift bags to food pantries in O’Fallon, Caseyville, Belleville, Fairview Heights and East St. Louis.

“The volunteers in these organizations were overwhelmed with the generosity of the birthday bag donations,” Knapp said.

“Because of their efforts, Troop 163 has now earned the esteemed Bronze Award — the highest level award earned by Junior Girl Scouts,” she said. “I am very proud of these girls.”

Besides their school and families, people who helped make the project a success included Thrivent Financial, which provided $250 in grant money to cover the cost of making flyers and supplies needed to launch the donation drive.

“The troop would like to thank many people for making this project such a success: Kristie Belobrajdic, the principal at Hinchcliffe Elementary; and all of the teachers, staff and students of Hinchcliffe Elementary; Gary Saenz and the crew at Casa Azteca for supporting the troop’s community service project by donating and catering the Taco Tuesday Party to over 50 students and teachers,” Knapp said.